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Friday, June 27, 2014

From War Thunder to Hard Core flight sim: how?

So, like me you've been playing War Thunder for a year. You started in arcade mode, using a mouse, then you went historical, and finally full real/simulator.

You're ready for a new challenge, but the hard core flight simulation choice is daunting, the learning curve looks too steep, and most of the players on those forums are total SNOBS.

Well, a few months ago I took the plunge! I bought three different 'hard core' flight sims, and have been trying them all out. Now I feel ready to make a recommendation, not based on all the different features of the game (they all have their good and bad points) but on how well they fill the role of 'transition game' from War Thunder player to hard core simmer. and how FRIENDLY the players are in their communities, who you can turn to for information and newbie type help.

But here is a funny fact: they're all Russian!


Just forget this game, right away. Blot it out of your mind. You look at the website and you think - cool! Jet fighters! P51 Mustangs! Helicopters! This game has it all! And man, it looks beautiful...

Then you install it (I chose the basic free DCS World module, which has an Su25 jet you can fly, plus the P51 Mustang which cost about 25 quid or 40 bucks) and the suckiness starts.

Yes, it has easy and hard modes, but the easy flight mode is still way too hard for someone coming from a flight game like War Thunder. I simply could not takeoff, even in the tutorial mission - just to give you a taste of how hard core this sim is, the first tutorial mission is all about just how to start the engine! It takes about a hundred steps. Then the next 'mission' is just about how to taxi out to takeoff! Third mission you actually get to take off. I think you are getting the picture.

Then there is the fact that even in 'simple' flight mode, the flight model is so tricky that I find it impossible to dogfight in the Mustang without sending it into a spin.  I got a ton of advice on how to set up my joystick, how to tweak the in game settings, you name it - but I pull back on the joystick and the darn thing goes into a death spin almost every time. Then I realised - IT ISN'T ME! Hundreds of players have this problem. See a typical post here:

DCS fanbois will argue until blue in the face that DCS has it right, and every other sim in the world (where the Mustang is actually flyable) has it wrong. I don't care actually, all I care about is whether I can fly the darn thing, and I can't. So, if this is hard core, then it is too hard core for me!

The community is so so. As with a lot of games, there are semi-religious fanbois who abuse anyone who seems to even ask a question which might be critical (which I learned asking about why the DCS Mustang spins so badly) and DCS seems to have more than its fair share of those. But there is also a large number of people who genuinely want to help you, and a lot of videos and tutorials they can refer you to, which really helped me at least to take off and land the thing!

Also on the plus side, it does have a lot of different HUD modes and help cues for new pilots, showing where targets are, and putting a lot of things on screen if you want them, such as airspeed and target locations. It also has a cue to help with deflection shooting, which works really well.

And, it costs you NOTHING to try it. The free game comes with an Su-25 jet with missions and campaigns to fly. The Su-25 is actually a lot of fun, kind of a Russian tractor version of the A-10, and I found it a lot easier to fly in simple mode than the Mustang. But coming from War Thunder I wanted a good WWII flight sim game (learning a hard core sim, as well as moving from propeller planes to jets was a big jump) and the DCS Mustang just made me feel too inferior.

Left in the Cold: IL2 Battle of Stalingrad

There is an apparently legendary flight sim series from about ten years ago called IL2 which most War Thunder players have never heard of. This is the latest installment in that game series. Like the old War Thunder beta, it is still in beta release, but you can already buy and play it and it is actually quite easy to play.

Unlike DCS Mustang, it comes with several planes already so there is a lot more to learn, and they are each very detailed, but that is a good thing. Because instead of starting in something as tricky as the Mustang, you can start in a flying tank called the IL2.

This machine is freaking awesome! Almost indestructable, flies fast, hits hard and doesn't punish inexperienced pilots.

Battle of Stalingrad has a simple flight mode, which actually is SIMPLE. You can set all sorts of options to make the flight model more or less challenging, you can set up the HUD to show a lot, or a little (or nothing), in the way of cues and the cues themselves are much better implemented than in DCS because it is clear that this game actually WANTS new pilots to start playing it.

The community of people around it is a bit like DCS, a lot of rabbid fanbois, but also a lot of people willing to answer and help with my many dumb questions.

So I have spent a lot of time flying the IL2 (and lately, trying to fly one of the German fighters, the Bf109G) and gradually getting more and more confident as I increase the reality options.

So why would I not recommend this game, right out of the box, to someone considering moving from War Thunder to a hard core sim?


Yes, you heard me. You can try DCS World Su-25 for free, or with the Mustang for 20 QUID or 40 bucks. The next sim, which I WILL recommend, can be bought for about 5 quid (yes 5) or ten (yes, 10) bucks. But the pre-release beta version of Battle of Stalingrad will cost you fifty quid and this is just too much - both for a beta product, but also in the context of just trying a hard core game to see if you like it or not. There is currently no free-to-try option.

Unless you love throwing money at a game you may never play, stay away.

The Green Fields of England: Cliffs of Dover

Finally, I get to the game which I actually recommend! Sorry about the delay dear travellers...

This game is freaking brilliant!

If you search for reviews online, you might get scared away, because apparently it was a total disaster when it first game out a couple of years ago. But that is GOOD for you, because it means the game is very cheap now!

Cliffs of Dover, or CLOD as fans call it (are they being funny? probably!) has been completely modded/fixed by a company called Team Fusion and it now plays beautifully, and looks even better. It is the closest thing to the graphics excellence you are used to from  War Thunder, of all three of these sims. Battle of Stalingrad aircraft are nice, but the landscape is just a mass of snowy boring nothingness. CLOD has the lovely French and British summer landscapes done perfectly (I live there, so I consider myself an expert!) and you can also get Mediterranean, Desert, Winter and Autumn landcapes and missions.

The 'simple' flight mode really is simple, so if you don't want to worry about engine management, flaps, trim tabs etc etc you don't have to. But as soon as you are ready to go hard core, you have a lot of options you can customise entirely to your own level of difficulty. It gave me exactly what I needed in the way of fine tuning the realism.

The online community is super friendly - especially the Team Fusion people. They will even offer to meet up with you online, and one of them met with me on TeamSpeak, and talked me through how to fly the Spitfire from start to landing and then took me on a combat mission as well. Unlike War Thunder where sometimes it is hard to find a SB battle with more than a handful of human players, the Cliffs of Dover servers have nearly a hundred players each, online, and ready to fight!

And the kicker? I bought it for ten quid (20 bucks). And I have seen it on sale for half that!

There are a lot of flyable aircraft (you have access to them all, not like in War Thunder) and you don't have to keep earning points to fly them, maintain and repair them. It is a real joy to crash your Spitfire, and restart in a fresh sparkling new one, without any penalty! So far I have stuck to the beautiful Spitfire, but there are bombers, twin engine fighters, German, Italian, and British (no American).

So this is the one for me. I still spend most of my time in War Thunder, because I have my favourite kites in my hangar now and a lot of time and pride invested, plus it is the best game for a quick blast of dogfighting. But I am spending more and more time in Cliffs of Dover.

And I recommend you do, too!


  1. thanks for this review.

  2. Thanks this is exact what I need. Warthunder is a good challenge but I am ready for more. I think Stalingrad sim looks good to me, and he is what I will try first - that cost is not too bad.

  3. Yes DCS is for virtual pilots not casual gamers. It may be hard but so is flying a real aircraft and that is what we are looking for as virtual pilots. DCS sells each module separate because of the huge amount of work that goes into each aircraft. The cockpits are fully click-able and accurate and the flight models are dead on. No offense to the author of this article but if you consider a spin in a mustang to death spin then yes this is far to real for you. A Mustang is one of the easiest fighters to recover from a spin. The problem with simulating the P-51 is a common one, because the aircraft was so responsive to controller inputs that the only way to represent that in a simulator is to make the controllers very touchy. However in real life these aircraft give a lot of push back on the controls giving you a feel for what is happening and it takes a lot of effort to pull the stick and you do not get this in simulators. The key is to tune the axes so that you can extend the pull over a further distance and then the controls are much more forgiving.

  4. Team Fusion patch on Cliffs of Dover is the way to go for the next step.

  5. My anaconda approves.

  6. For those interested, Team Fusion MOD files can be found here:

    And a slight correction to the article, Team Fusion is not a company, is a group of players that decided to MOD the game as they understood the huge potential the game had, even with the failure at launch.

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